Johannesburg : Democratic lawmakers and rights group have accused the U.S. State Department of ‘politicising’ its annual rankings of nations on their attempts to tackle flesh trade and other forms of exploitative labour, as key trading partner, Malaysia, and Cuba, with whom U.S. recently restored diplomatic ties, were taken off a blacklist.

However, Thailand, which was downgraded along with Malaysia last year because of labour abuses in its fishing industry, remained stuck on ‘tier 3,’ the lowest ranking in the department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, reported News24. Critics argued that Malaysia’s removal from the list was linked to its participation in a U.S.-backed trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries, of which Thailand is not a part. Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), pointed out that migrants were being trafficked and abused with impunity and Rohingya victims’ bodies were being pulled out of shallow graves along the border and asked, “how can the State Department call this ‘progress’?”

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez snubbed the list as a ‘stamp of approval’ for nations who had failed to take basic actions to merit the upgrade. Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall however, denied any ‘politicization’ of the blacklist. The list was formally launched by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that the ranking was not intended to ‘name and shame’ but to galvanise action against illicit trade that the UN estimates generates USD 150 billion in profits each year.

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